A gritty, white-knuckle, action ride set in the near-future, where the sport of boxing has gone hi-tech, Real Steel stars Hugh Jackman as Charlie Kenton, a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback. (from MovieWeb.com)
It amazes me how a movie trailer can really affect your impression of a film. When I first saw ads for Real Steel, my initial thoughts were not positive and, if anything, leaned toward feeling like it looked pretty ridiculous. However, I enjoy most movies Hugh Jackman stars in (although he could not - and no one could - save the poorly made Australia), and I didn't want to erroneously write off the movie before hearing more about it or seeing it for myself. When the initial buzz for the film was more positive than not, I decided it may be worth checking out. And I'm here to report to you that I'm glad I did.
Surprisingly enough, Date Night and Night at the Museum director Shawn Levy helms this story, a film about a former boxer who is down-on-his-luck and travels the country enrolling his own robotic boxer into matches for money. Charlie Kenton, played by Jackman, tends to put more on the line than he can afford to, which inevitably gets him into some serious trouble. Things change, however, when an ex-girlfriend passes away, leaving his eleven-year-old son Max in his care. Kenton literally makes a cash deal with his son's uncle to keep him over the summer until they return from a vacation (and can then take him into custody), and uses that money to invest in a new bot. What unfolds from here is not only a Rocky/Karate Kid kind of underdog story, but a touching father/son story as well.
Charlie Kenton isn't exactly the kind of guy you root for. He's selfish, arrogant, impulsive, and bitter. But you soon realize, once Max comes into the picture, that this man has a shred of decency that he somehow managed to lose along the way. As the story progresses, Charlie does start to warm up to Max and the two end up making a great team in the world of robotic boxing. Unfortunately, this also creates one of the movie's biggest problems: it's predictable. If you've seen any movie with a similar plot line, or any underdog sports film, you can pretty much assume the course the film will take. You may wonder exactly what outcome will be chosen for the result of, say, the climactic battle, but ultimately, you can pick up the plot pieces that set little things into motion and realize early on that it will come into play prominently during the climax. While this predictability will certainly ruin the fun for some, I felt the acting and journey Levy takes us on is worth the familiarity along the way. While you can figure things out with little effort, you still don't know how they're going to get there and what may happen before we arrive at that point, and that is part of the fun of Real Steel. Also, as a young dad myself, I did enjoy the father/son subplot of the film. Jackman did a fantastic job at delivering a well-rounded and believable performance as Kenton, and newcomer Dakota Goyo is quite good as his son Max. Sometimes children in these films can be more irritating and obnoxious than endearing (and one scene where Max grabs the microphone while in the ring does threaten to be just that), but Levy made a wise casting choice with Goyo, who really did a great job.
The content for Real Steel was considerably more tame than I expected. Not taking Levy's previously crass Date Night into consideration, there were many times I expected Kenton to spout profanities or things to possibly go in a more vulgar direction, but Levy plays the film more family friendly than not. There is some language included, still, with 2 uses of the "S" word and a handful of other more mild cuss words, but I was disappointed to hear them let Max use the "S" word once as well as a few other cuss words. It wasn't frequent at all, but it didn't sound good coming from him either, and it made the movie sound a little less family oriented. In addition to that, there is one pretty violent scene where some guys Charlie owes money to corner him and Max and beat up Charlie. He does put up a fight, but they level him pretty good. Max gets a little roughed up, but isn't beaten at all. It's used to move the story along, and it's filmed in a dimly lit area as not to seem quite as brutal, but it's a dark moment in an otherwise pretty tame film. If they'd either omitted that or toned it down further, as well as toned down the language just a little bit more, there wouldn't really be any reason why this couldn't have been rated PG for wider audiences.
Overall, I was surprised by how much I actually enjoyed Real Steel. From the title to the concept right down to the way the trailers were cut, I didn't really want to like the movie and was pretty certain I wouldn't. But with Jackman's performance, along with some solid fight scenes and Levy's confident directing, I found Real Steel to be quite entertaining. Fans of sci-fi/action films like Transformers and sports films like Rocky or Karate Kid would probably best enjoy this one. It's hardly a perfect film (and you really have to excuse its somewhat corny ending), but it's definitely an enjoyable one and a fun fall 2011 treat.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 10/10/11)
Real Steel is a great pro-family, sci-fi sports film that may even be better after the second viewing. The story and characters are interesting and unique and Shawn Levy proves his versatility as a director here. The movie is available as a Blu-Ray/DVD and Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, as well as a single-disc DVD and in the various digital retail formats. It's the perfect movie to watch in high definition too, so if you can check it out in HD, it's highly recommended. Along with the feature film, there are some great bonus features to enjoy, too...
Countdown to The Fight - The Charlie Kenton Story (13:51) is a fictional, documentary style sports "special" where almost all of the characters from the film talk about Hugh Jackman's character Charlie Kenton as if all of these characters were really real. Jackman is interviewed as Kenton and tells stories from his boxing career. It gives depth to that aspect of the Real Steel story and gives history to some of the plot points only touched upon lightly in the film. Through this story, they even talk about how robo boxing replaced human boxing, forcing boxers out of their jobs. By the end of this inside look at Kenton's boxing career, you find that it's meant to seem like a news story that would precede the big finally fight with Zeus. (1 "a" word, 3 "h*ll")
Making of Metal Valley (14:14) -- This is a behind-the-scenes featurette that features director/producer Shawn Levy showing how they created the robo junkyard in the film. It's a really cool sequence in the film and definitely one of the more intriguing set pieces to learn how they accomplished what was caught on screen. First they show us a real mill which they expanded and built onto it to make it "Metal Valley," and then they go in-depth on how they filmed Dakota's plummet down the cliff. It takes us through the details of all four days used to make the scene -- from construction to testing the stunt with both a stunt double and Dakota, and then to actually filming the scene. On day four, Levy realizes there's just one shot missing where Dakota takes Hugh's hands during the rescue sequence and Shawn orders more filming to get that shot when they go back to finish the rest of the scene that evening. It's an excellent featurette and a nice look into just a small part of the big filmmaking puzzle that makes up a blockbuster film like Real Steel.
Building The Bots (5:38) - Levy reveals that through Steven Spielberg's guidance, they decided to build real, physical versions of the robots to get a realistic feel and performance from the actors (like with what Steven did for the first two Jurassic Park movies). Levy and his team enlisted the help of Stan Winston's company to bring those bots as "puppets" to life on screen. They did a fantastic job merging real bots with animated ones.
Sugar Ray Leonard: Cornerman's Champ (6:19) - Three months before production began, they brought boxing legend Sugar Ray Leonard in to train Hugh into looking and acting like a real boxer. The great lengths they went to to make this movie, and make the boxing in it look legit, is really impressive. It's cool to see even just a little of that training footage with Hugh and Sugar Ray.
Deleted & Extended Scenes (17:49) - There are two sequences--"Extended Meet Ambush" and "Deleted Butterfly Storyline"--that are also given a Play All function. Levy introduces and explains these sequences, which open with the full version of the film's introduction of Ambush as Charlie encounters the little kids from the fair who want to meet the robot (1 "a" word, 1 "you suck"). The cut in the final film is definitely a wiser choice. The remaining thirteen minutes or so here make up the "Deleted Butterfly Storyline." Levy again introduces this montage of scenes that he felt needed to be omitted from the overall story. The scenes that unfold show Max with a "one-of-a-kind" buttefly pin that he'd been given by his mom that he gives to his aunt when he sees her before the custody hearing. Later, she shows it to Charlie to gloat over having made a connection with Max. After Charlie and Max hit the road, the two stop at a diner, and as Max gets out of the truck, his backpack drops, spilling a horde of similar buttefly pins. Charlie scoffs at the deception Max was pulling and then the two go inside the diner. There's actually a great exchange between the two at the diner where we first discover just how into robo boxing Max is and how he knows so much about it. Another short scene shows Max holding a bigger butterfly pin while lying in bed. The last scene takes place after Charlie gets beaten up and we see them back at the truck checking inventory on what had been stolen. Max first thinks his pin was stolen but Charlie hands it to him and then tells a story of when his mother was pregnant with Max. In the story, Charlie recalls laying his hand on her belly and feeling Max moving around a lot inside the womb. He likened it to a butterfly flapping its wings and tells Max that the pin he's been keeping was one that Charlie gave to Max's mom. It's a touching scene between the two that adds more depth to their relationship. While the butterfly subplot is a little corny, the meaning behind it really knits Max, Charlie and the boy's mom together more intimately. I don't think the film necessarily needed this subplot, but it'd be interesting to watch the film with it included. I don't like the idea of Max being this young kid trying to pull a con on his own family, but some of the little details in the scenes that were cut could have stayed in. Considering how Levy's last film, Date Night, included an "Extended Cut" on the Blu-Ray disc, it would have been cool if he'd done the same for Real Steel (however, none of these scenes add to the action, so I could definitely see some fans feeling jipped by the idea of it being "Extended" but without additional action. All in all, these scenes were at least good additions to the BD.
Bloopers (2:36) - This is a montage of goof-ups and line flubs on the set. It's pretty cute and entertaining, actually. It's a nice addition to the extras that doesn't just focus on profanity like some other movie gag reels for other films tend to.
Last but not least is a "Second Screen" feature which allows you to download a specific app for the movie for your iPad or laptop to view additional bonus features for the movie while you watch it (which wasn't available at the time of this review). As bonus features, the Blu-Ray does a great job taking fans beyond the feature film and actually add some appreciation for the film after you see just how much really went into it. The movie is a surprise gem from the 2011 run of films and definitely worth a look.- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 1/21/12)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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